Moriah, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb

Chapter 3. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull - Part C

This was confirmed when excavations were done in the area of the Damascus Gate by Dame Kathleen Kenyon in the early 1960s. A great deal of Herodian stonework was found here. Under the present Gate are remains from 3 earlier periods: from Herod's time; from the Roman period; and from the time of the Crusaders. The remains of impressive Roman structure were found, consisting of a large triple entrance gate, flanked on both sides by huge towers. The excavations of 1980-85 enabled the interior of both towers to be cleaned, and revealed the tremendous stones of which the towers were built. These stones are remnants of walls built by Herod - the City walls and gates. These were destroyed in AD 70 and their stones were reused when the Gate was rebuilt by Hadrian. These excavations revealing great Herodian stones built into the portals, makes it plain that there had been a City Wall on this spot prior to the destruction by Titus. 

This all means that our proposed site for Golgotha is perfectly consistent with the Bible’s requirements that it is not far outside the City Walls, and also near the main Gate (John 19:20, Hebrews 13:12). 

An ancient Jewish Execution Site! General Charles Gordon was the most famous exponent of the view that the Quarry was the place of the crucifixion of Jesus outside the City Wall. About the same time, in 1875, Captain Claude Conder of the Palestine Exploration Fund stated his conviction that this was the real site of Calvary. He was particularly impressed by the fact that there was an ancient local Jewish tradition that identified the ground below Skull Hill as the 'House of Stoning' (Beth-has-sekîlah) known from the Mishnah (2nd century AD) in Sanhedrin 6:1-4, which talks about the 'Place of Stoning' outside the City. This seems to have been the place of a precipice or cliff (at least 'twice the height of a man'). This suggested that this was Jerusalem's execution-ground in the time of Jesus, and therefore an excellent candidate for the Crucifixion Site. Thus the name Golgotha ('the Place of the Skull') would have been even more fitting, because of its association with executions. Thus it seems that Skull Hill was the common site used for executions. The cliff certainly fits well with the Jewish method of stoning at Christ's time. This Jewish tradition was confirmed by the fact that as late as the beginning of the 20th century, devout Jews would spit at the hill, throw stones and curse the ‘destroyer of their nation.’ On the other hand, there is no evidence that the site of the Holy Sepulchre was ever a place of regular executions. 

This 'House of Stoning' was also a recognised place of crucifixion, because of the Jewish custom of hanging the body of the accursed one on a Tree after he had been stoned. They sunk the beam in the ground, and a crossbeam extended from it, and they bound his hands one over another, and hung him up. The body was, removed at sundown according to Deuteronomy 21:23. 

Although in AD 6 the Romans took away the right to inflict capital punishment from the Jewish authorities, before that time, the condemned man was thrown off the cliff by his accusers; and then then they threw stones upon him until he died (compare the attempt on Jesus' life in Luke 4:29). A disused Quarry bed was a perfect spot for an execution site. There would have been plenty of loose stones available for stonings. Also the Quarry floor provided an open area with plenty of room for a crowd of onlookers and witnesses. Since an execution site would have been considered polluted, it would not have been in keeping with Jewish custom to execute people just anywhere. It would need a special place set apart for that purpose. Moreover, with land at a premium, it makes no sense that there would be more than one piece of ground reserved for executions. So this would have been the one and only site used for Jewish executions.

The Stonings of Stephen and Jeremiah 
The Jewish tradition that this site was the Jewish Place of Stoning is confirmed by early Christian traditions that connect it with the scene of the Stonings of both the prophet Jeremiah and Stephen. 

Jeremiah. Annually, on the 4th of November, the Orthodox (Greek) Church commemorates the fall of Jerusalem, and during the special Service for the day a portion of an ancient Christian Apocalypse from 136 AD, giving an account of Jeremiah’s stoning is read. This is entitled: 'The Rest of the Words of Baruch.' This important tradition that Jeremiah was stoned to death is not an original idea of the Christian Baruch, but it is found in Hebrews 11:37: “they were stoned, they were sawn in two.” Each statement in Hebrews 11 is based on the history of a real person. It is known that 'they were sawn asunder' refers to Isaiah, 'stopped the mouths of lions' refers to Daniel, and 'quenched the violence of fire' to the 3 Hebrew children. The best candidate for 'they were stoned' belongs to Jeremiah, and this is confirmed by this Christian tradition. 

Stephen. Ancient Christian tradition also associates this spot with the stoning of the first Christian Martyr, Stephen: “They dragged him out of the City and began to stone him” (Acts 7:58). 

This general area has been associated with Stephen from at least as early as the 5th century, when the great Church of St. Stephen was built on the site now covered by the Church in the Dominican Ecole Biblique, situated adjacent to Golgotha, on top of the cliff just north of the Garden Tomb. General Gordon argued: “Why did the Empress Eudocia build her church to St. Stephen outside the Gate? Could it be that she had evidence that Stephen was stoned there? If Stephen was stoned there - so soon after the Lord's Crucifixion - it is not improbable that he was stoned in the same area in which our Lord was crucified. These numerous indications, together with the style of the Church, which belongs to a period of transition between the Latin Basilica and the style of St. Sophia, and finally, the distance from the City, demonstrate unequivocally that the Dominicans at Jerusalem are in possession of the Basilica built by Eudocia on the place where Stephen was stoned.” Gordon’s insight as to where the Empress Eudocia might have built her Church in honour of Stephen was almost immediately proved correct when the Dominicans discovered its remains just north of the present Garden Tomb enclosure in 1885. It had been erected there to memorialise what must have been the local tradition. Skull Hill contains a large complex of Jewish tombs from the 1st and 2nd Temple periods, and in particular, one known as the Garden Tomb. On the plateau above the low cliff into which the Tomb is carved sits St. Stephen's Church amidst ruins of earlier structures. The Church's discovery provided further evidence in support of the early tradition placing Stephen's execution there. From the 5th century until Crusader times, Damascus Gate was called St. Stephen's Gate. Few would doubt that Stephen was stoned to death in this abandoned Quarry, and was buried just north of the Skull Hill. The strong tradition of Stephen's death near Skull Hill is significant in identifying it as the official place of Jewish execution in Jerusalem.

Execution grounds are scarce in any city. It is contrary to all custom to have multiple execution sites. There is no evidence of a number of such sites in Jerusalem. The Jews would have had just one execution site, so this confirms that this was indeed the Jewish Place of Stoning. Stephen’s death was an illegal action, but by executing him in the official place of execution, it would have at least made it seem quasi-legal and not murder; a point of importance since the Sanhedrin (Jewish Ruling Council) was responsible for pronouncing his death sentence. Stephen was martyred just 6 months after the Cross, so it is unlikely that he would have been executed in a different place of execution than where Jesus was crucified. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that Luke records his death in Acts 7 as having many parallels with Christ. Presented with Stephen’s witness against them, the Jewish Leaders were given the opportunity to either repent or confirm their rejection of Christ.

By killing Stephen they chose the latter, re-enacting what they did 6 months before, with Stephen, like Christ, speaking forgiveness to the ones killing him. The parallels between the deaths of Stephen and Christ confirm they were killed at the same place. If Jerusalem had one execution ground, as there is every reason to believe, then Stephen’s martyrdom would have certainly have been in the same place as Christ’s. Such a firm tradition associating the place with Stephen is good evidence he died in front of Skull Hill and that, therefore, Jesus also was executed here! If Stephen was stoned here then why suppose Jesus was crucified far into the built-up area near Herod's Palace, as some say? That is far more unlikely! There is no proof the execution ground was anywhere else than Skull Hill, nor has any tradition pointed to an alternative. Thus the burden of proof that the Place of Stoning differs from the ground in front of Skull Hill lies with those who challenge it, or who contend there were 2 places of execution. 

Roman Executions Therefore, since this was the execution site for Jerusalem, it is only logical that the Romans would have chosen this standard existing execution site, which had been reserved for that purpose, for their executions (including Christ’s Crucifixion), as long as long as it satisfied their requirements for crucifixions, which it certainly did, as we shall show below. The site is indeed perfectly fitted as a place for public execution, especially Roman Crucifixion. There is no reason for the Romans to use a different place of execution to that established by the Jewish Sanhedrin, although this assembly had its authority to inflict Capital Punishment removed by the Romans a few years before the date of the Cross. 

Jesus was crucified under Roman law and Roman custom was always to execute the condemned (1) outside the City Gates, and (2) close to a well-travelled road, ideally a busy thoroughfare where 2 or more ways met, and (3) where there was plenty of room for a crowd of spectators. The reason is that the Romans used this most cruel method of execution as a visual deterrent to other potential rebels. In fact, people were required to stop and watch a crucifixion. Therefore, their main requirement was for a public open place, near a main road, just outside the City. So they were always done near main roads, in a place where many people could and would witness the event. 

The Roman writer Quintillian in his Declarations, writes: 
“Whenever we crucify criminals, very crowded highways are chosen, so that many may see it, and many may be moved by fear of it.”

The Gospels record this was certainly the case with Jesus, saying He was crucified in front of a jeering crowd, while other people who were just passing by on the main road hurled insults at Him: 

Mark 15:20,21,29: “they led him out (of the City) to crucify Him . . . Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, 
the father of Alexander and Rufus as he was coming out of the country and PASSING BY, to bear His Cross....And those who PASSED BY blasphemed Him, wagging their heads.” 

Matthew 27:39 says: “those who PASSED BY (travelling on the main-road) blasphemed Him, wagging their heads.”

Luke 23:35: “The people (crowd of spectators) 
stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

The ground in front of Skull Hill fits all these requirements perfectly, being just outside the main Damascus Gate, right next to the intersection of the busy highways to Damascus and Shechem (in the north) and Jericho (in the east), and close enough to be visible from the City Walls. Moreover, since the foot of Skull Hill was the barren base of an abandoned ancient Quarry, it was a large open flat space providing plenty of room for a crowd of spectators. Therefore it was a perfect location for a Roman Crucifixion. In a City of the size of ancient Jerusalem, where the burgeoning population would have quickly filled most of the good ground close by the City, only a useless quarry bed would have been likely to have been used! Only such a place could accommodate crowds of spectators. The location could scarcely have been anywhere else around Jerusalem.

One confusion caused by popular tradition is the idea that the crucifixion must have occurred on the top of this skull-shaped hill. The Bible does not say this. The New Testament nowhere speaks of 'Golgotha' (Hebrew) or 'Calvary' (Latin) as a hill. In fact the top of the hill would not meet the Roman requirements, being too far away from the city-walls and main roads. Thus the Cross would not have been erected on the top of the hill, but on the ground somewhere at the foot. The Gospels simply speak of 'the Place of the Skull' (John 19:17), which speaks of the ground in the general vicinity of the Skull, watched over by the Skull-Face. The space in front of Skull Hill, north of the Damascus Gate, makes perfect sense as the 'Place of the Skull' from the Gospels. It is as perfect a site as one could possibly hope to find for the public spectacle of a grisly execution. 

The fact that the escarpment also resembled a Skull only confirmed this identification. This is based on various facial features (such as the eye sockets) as well as the overall shape of the rock as a whole. The Skull Face must have existed as it is from ancient times. With the skull image visible behind the flat site of the Crucifixion, it is understandable why the site was called ‘the Place of the Skull’ in the Gospels. Today this large flat site is covered by a bus depot going up to the scarp of the hill where the eyes of the skull look out upon the jostling buses. Thus the name 'Golgotha' ('Place of the Skull') originated both from its association with executions, and because the protruding rock bore a clear resemblance to a human Skull. 

Thus one can prove this place fits all the Gospel-requirements, as well as agreeing with Jewish and Christian traditions of it being an execution site. Such proof cannot be given for the Holy Sepulchre. Archaeologists who approved this Skull Hill are Conder, Dr Harry Rimmer, Sir Charles Marston, Sir Flanders Petrie and many others.



Jeremiah’s Grotto The north-east portion of the Quarry, along the Cliff, just east of the Skull Face, opens into a large rock-hewn cavern called "Jeremiah's Grotto." This part of the same hill has excellent rock for quarrying into huge ashlars, such as were used for Herod's Temple. Ashlars could have been further excavated if needed. ‘Jeremiah’s Grotto’ marks the strong tradition associating this place with Jeremiah, who was imprisoned in a cave here by King Zedekiah, and where he wrote the book of Lamentations mourning Jerusalem’s destruction (Jeremiah 38:6), as well as possibly being stoned here. 



In the very place where Christ died 600 years later, Jeremiah, the suffering prophet, identifying with Christ (as a type of Christ), spoke a prophetic lamentation, speaking of those who passed by,and watched His crucifixion. When we realise that Jeremiah spoke this prophecy at this very place, his words come to life in a new way: 

Lamentations 1:12: “Is it nothing to you, all you who PASS BY? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on Me, which the LORD has inflicted in the day of His fierce anger.” 

These are the words of Christ addressed to the passers-by at the Cross, as well as to those who have been passing Him by ever since, either ignoring or mocking Him. He says: “Is this nothing to you. Don’t you care. Don’t you realise I am dying for you!” 



So, Jesus would have been crucified at the Place of the Skull, near the base of the Rock Face, NOT on top of the Hill, otherwise He would have been too far away from the road for the Roman’s liking. 

By being crucified just in front of the Rock Face, the Romans could add to their deterrent by posting large Signs in cut-outs in the Rock-Face above the Cross describing the crime for which they were being crucified. 

Luke 23:38 tells us: “an inscription also was written OVER Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” A small notice nailed to the Cross would be much too small for anyone to read!

3 such cut-outs have actually been found on the Skull-Face! This one is the highest, the others are now underground. Ground-Level at the time of Christ would have been at least 10 feet lower.



The Crucifixion site could be anywhere along the Rock Face of the Skull, as it is simply described as being at the Place of the Skull. It does not have to be directly under the Skull. Perhaps it is under these cut-outs?


The only other clue we have is that when Jesus was taken down from the Cross, He was placed in a Tomb nearby, that was in the very same Place (the Place of the Skull) where He was crucified. In other words, He was placed a Tomb carved in the same Rock-Face:

John 19:41,42: “Now IN THE PLACE where He was crucified there was a Garden, and in the Garden a new Tomb in 

which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the Tomb was NEARBY.” 


As an amazing confirmation to what we are saying, there is indeed a Garden Tomb, cut into the same Rock-Face of Mt.Moriah. It perfectly satisfies the Biblical requirements for Christ’s empty Tomb. 

The Place of the Skull, shown in GREEN is just North of the City Wall, near the Damascus Gate. Next to it (the area shown in RED) is the Garden, where the Garden Tomb is located. Notice that the Skull Rock Face facing Jerusalem continues into the Garden Tomb Area, before turning North towards the Garden Tomb. This means it is possible that Christ was actually crucified within the Garden Tomb Area. 

The probability of this is increased by 3 considerations:
1. It is the point on the Skull Face closest to the Damascus Gate, and so is the best place for a public spectacle.

2. It is the point on the Skull Face facing Jerusalem closest to the Garden Tomb, agreeing with John 19:41,42, that states the Tomb was nearby in the very same place. In fact, it is just around the corner.

3. The cut-outs were found on the piece of the Rock Face within the Garden Tomb area. Only part of the top cut-out is visible now.

Whereas Gordon’s Calvary in the north clearly fits the Biblical requirement of being outside the City Walls near a main Gate, this cannot be said for the Church of the Holy-Sepulchre. There is an ongoing argument as to whether it was inside or outside the City Wall in the time of Christ, since no remains of the wall on the west have been found. It is just about possible to draw a hypothetical Wall which zig-zags in such a way that makes it just outside the Wall. Despite the fact that this route does not make much sense from a military (defensive) point of view (which after all is the very reason for having a Wall), it is the favoured theory at the moment, no doubt due to the force of tradition for the Church of the Holy-Sepulchre from the time of Constantine. Even if the Wall followed this route, the ‘Constantinian Calvary’ would have only been a few yards outside the Wall, which adds further problems because it is likely that by Christ’s time, the growing population would have spread out beyond the City-Walls on this north-western side of Jerusalem, making it impossible to use as a Crucifixion and Burial Site.

Even if this were not so, it certainly would have been the case that this area would have packed with many hundreds of thousands of Israelites camping out, who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, as they were required to do under the Law. Jerusalem, then as now, was a City not only of inhabitants, but of visitors coming to the Feasts, not just from Israel, but from many surrounding nations (see Acts 2, describing the day of Pentecost). These pilgrims required much space and would have packed the City and its flat areas to the northwest, leaving no place for a Calvary there. This would have made it impossible to use as an execution site at Passover. In fact, the North was the only place not packed with pilgrims at Passover time! 

Thus, at Passover, Jerusalem and the area all around was packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims camping out. Only at this place on the north-side was open ground, useable for executions, as it was reserved for the Samaritans who never came. 

Dr A.T. Schofield, in WHERE HE DWELT, makes this point and shows its relevance to the probable location of the place of execution. Writing about the Skull Hill he observes: “There are other considerations which mark this as being the scene of the crucifixion. At the time of the Passover there were an enormous number of people gathered to Jerusalem in addition to the ordinary population; these were encamped all around the city in fixed spots, the slopes of Olivet, being always assigned to the Galileans, hence it was called at the time the Galilean Hill; the Hill of Evil Counsel, to the south of the Valley of Hinnom, was for the children of Judah; the western suburbs were filled with the people from the Plain of Sharon and the sea-coast; the north, where Gordon's Calvary stands, was always reserved for the Samaritans, but, inasmuch as they never came to the Feast, having their own on Mount Gerizim, this part was always bare and desolate, while the other three sides of the city were crowded with tents and baggage and animals of all descriptions, like a large fair. The northern side was thus, about the only place where an execution could take place at this crowded season.” 

Thus, ignoring the precise locations of the various Walls, the execution grounds in this city of many pilgrimages would almost have to be to the NORTH, and hence also the actual Tomb of Jesus which was: “in the Place where He was crucified.” Add to this the fact that just to the north of the City, there was a large open space (the remains of an ancient quarry), just outside the Main Gate of the City Walls, next to a major highway, ideal for Jewish and Roman executions. Moreover, this space was overlooked by a distinctive skull shape in the rock-face, hence the name: “the Place of the Skull.” In the next chapter, we shall see there is also a suitable Tomb nearby.

Abraham prophesied that the Final Sacrifice would be made on Mount Moriah, and logically it should be at its highest and holiest point in the north (in the area marked B and C in the picture opposite), looking down upon the Temple Mount below in the South where the Dome of the Rock now stands, where the animal sacrifices were made, that pointed up to the higher and ultimate Sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, He was crucified at the Northern Peak of Moriah, now called the Calvary Escarpment or Golgotha or the Place of the Skull, just outside the Northern Wall and the City Gate (marked D) of Jerusalem, which is now called the Damascus Gate.

Knowing this, we can reconstruct His walk to the Crucifixion Site, carrying His Cross, the very same route Isaac took, carrying the wood on his back. His Trial before Pilate was at the Antonia Fortress at the North-West corner of the Temple Platform (the top right of the picture). (Due to the tense political situation, Pilate would have been at the Antonia during Passover in order to personally command his resident army garrisoned there, to properly control the festival crowds in Jerusalem, and especially those within the Temple area). From there, Christ would have carried His Cross through the Damascus Gate (marked D), after which He would have turned right, and gone a short distance on the main highway going East, parallel to the Wall, before turning left into the area marked C, the Place at the Front of the Hill, at its base, overlooked by the Skull Face. This area is now occupied by a Bus Station. 

He was crucified there against the Rock Face, NOT on top of the Hill (marked B), but at the Place by the wayside, at the foot of the Hill, in front of it (in the large, open, flat area marked C), where there was plenty of room for a crowd of spectators, as well as being visible from the City Walls. Moreover, it was also situated close to the great road which connected the Damascus Road with the Jericho road as it ran outside the North Wall, an ideal place for a public execution because of the numerous passers-by, mocking Christ as He hung on the Cross. This was the most natural theatre for executions which could be found in Jerusalem.



We have seen that Abraham in the Old Testament (Genesis 22) predicted that the Final Sacrifice would be on Mount Moriah, which is identified in 2Chronicles 3:1 as the Mount in Jerusalem where the Temple was built. The Temple itself was located at about the midpoint on the north-south line of the hill, not at its Peak. This implied Christ should die at the Peak of Mt. Moriah, north of the Temple Platform, for He had to fulfil all that was prophesied of Him, including the place of His Sacrificial Death. 

We have seen that the New Testament, in describing the details of Christ’s Crucifixion, confirms the very same location, for it says Jesus was crucified just outside the City Walls, near the main City Gate, in the Place of the Skull. Skull Hill, at the northern Peak of Mt.Moriah fits this description perfectly! Therefore, Jesus must have been crucified here, in fulfilment of Abraham’s Prophecy. 

Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, on the Peak of Mt Moriah as the Lamb of God at Passover, at the same time that all the Passover Lambs were being sacrificed on the Temple Platform lower down on the same Mt Moriah. As He died, having paid the full penalty for our sin, He declared: “It is finished, the price is paid in full.” In response, the supernatural darkness lifted and the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, signifying that now the ultimate sacrifice of God’s Son had been made, no more sacrifices would be necessary.

Then He was buried in a Garden Tomb nearby (which must also be on Mt.Moriah), from which He was raised after 3 days! Therefore, there must also be a Garden Tomb nearby, belonging to a rich man, that fits the description given in the Gospels. The next Chapters will demonstrate this!




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